RIDE, SALLY, RIDE: Just the bare-bones facts of Marcela Davison Aviles' bio make you think, now here's a liberated, intelligent woman. Right now she's a video producer living in San Francisco. Before that she was a lawyer in banking and international finance in New York City. She picked up a law degree at Stanford Law, a bachelor's in film history as a scholarship student at Harvard. Even further back she was a student at Tucson's Rincon High, an elementary student at Duffy in TUSD. She was born in Nogales of parents who emigrated from Mexico.
She's come a long way and all that, but it was a not until she had a daughter of her own that it really clicked with Aviles how unliberated the mass media still are. She'd been trying for a while to break into the entertainment industry--her first screenplay, she says, now serves as "the great American doorstop"--but when she turned on the tube with little Alejandra she was astonished and dismayed at the slim pickings for young girls.
"My daughter was about two and we were getting videos as gifts," she says by phone from her San Francisco office. "It was a real eye-opener to me. There were all these reality videos for kids. There was a whole market out there...But I was frustrated with what I was finding--the videos were too violent, too scary, too long. There was a lot of stuff that was little boy-oriented."
All those road construction videos, for instance, so wildly popular with little boys, had mostly men behind the wheels. Alejandra just wasn't interested. And there wasn't much out there that made an effort to interest her or other little girls.
Aviles had stumbled onto a bizarre phenomenon of the American cultural scene. It's long been a truism in book publishing, Hollywood and televisionland that while girls will read books and watch movies and shows about boys, the reverse is never true.
Shrewd businesswoman that she is, Aviles sees that failing as a market niche. She intends to fill it with videos promoting positive images of girls and boys both, produced by her company, Blackboard Entertainment. Right now she's marketing the company's first video, You Can Ride A Horse, the first in a projected series of You Can features. This one is a lively 29-minute piece with a fast pace and music, narrated by a girl, targeted to ages 2 to 8. It details a visit by a preschool girl and boy to a horse stable. They find lots of really exciting horses whinnying, galloping and jumping. More importantly, they see capable young teenage girls doing the riding, grooming and teaching.
If it's occurred to Aviles that just maybe girls--and their parents--want to see girls on the screen doing neat stuff--lately Hollywood seems to have been struck by the same radical notion. The winter season delivered Little Women. A recent Newsweek article noted a whopping five of the summer's 17 movies targeted for kids have girls in the leads. This is news. The new movies are A Little Princess and Casper, and the upcoming Baby-Sitters Club and Clueless. And speaking of clueless, there's also this season's soon-to-be-released Disney drivel: Pocahontas, wherein the Native American heroine of folklore becomes a major babe, a T&A girl whose skimpy buckskins keep slipping off her shoulder and blowing open up to her crotch. (I know, it hasn't opened yet, but I've seen the coming attractions.)
Probably the best of the lot is an independent production by the gifted John Sayles, released earlier this spring. The Secret Life of Roan Inish (it played at The Loft in Tucson). Written and directed by Sayles, the movie is a magical tale set on the misty west coast of Ireland. It's a marvelous skein of storytelling and live action, set to Irish fiddles and pipes. Best of all, working mightily to bring the sorrowful Connelly family back to their abandoned island home is an eminently capable 10-year-old girl, the sturdy Fiona.
It matters, it matters. Young girls need to see dynamic girls on the screen, acting instead of reacting, leading instead of following, seeking out life's adventures instead of trying to pull everyone else back. And it matters for young boys to see those girls too.
Aviles says she makes sure that happens in her videos. "The story has to be told in such a way that little girls can take away as much as little boys, and that little boys see girls as active, as equals...Everyone knows about how adult women get treated in the (entertainment) industry. With children's entertainment it's the same thing: They concentrate on the male segment of the population. In videos, boys are heroes, girls are along for the ride.
"I'm not a social scientist. I'm just a producer trying to create stuff I would want my own daughter to watch."
Aviles' video, You Can Ride a Horse, is available by calling 1-800-968-2261. The price is $12.95 plus $3.95 shipping and handling.
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